Coffee heat rising

The Holiday Dog Food Jamboree

So another of the many things you know, if you’ve been reading this site for long, is that one of my many eccentricities is a penchant for concocting home-made dog food for the hounds. This is not very hard to do, nor is it very hard to find out what should go into it, since a number of university veterinary programs and similar credible sources publish discussions of canine nutritional needs.

Vets, when they find out you do this, get very nervous: they define “people food” (a derisive term) as fast-food burgers and pizza. Naturally, anyone with half an ounce of sense does not define junk food as “people food” — or, come to think of it, even as “food.” No. The Funny Farm canids get a mix of something over a third high-quality meat protein, about a third mixed, ground vegetables (yes, Virginia: dogs are omnivores), and about a third starchy food known to be highly digestible dogs. Do not fear: dogs have been living with humans for something over 16,000 years, during which time they have been sharing the humans’ diet with no ill effect. Specially formulated magical “dog food” was invented and sold to a waiting world in the first third of the 20th century…to no great improvement in dog life expectancy.

So, okay. While Cassie has been struggling with her current life-threatening ailment, I became scared by the Veterinary Babble about DIY dog food. (Why this should scare me escapes common sense: it was, after all, MarvelVet’s ill-conceived scheme to convince me that the dog had Valley fever that made the poor beast sick unto death.) But that notwithstanding…during all this, I feared that maybe the home-brewed chow was inadequate, and consequently started feeding her exclusively FreshPet with a little canned food to top it by way of tricking her to swallow pills.

FreshPet is the stuff that comes in rolls. Read the ingredients and compare with other pet junkfood and you’ll see it comes closer than most of them to real food, and it’s available in several grocery stores, obviating yet another annoying trip and yet another stand in line in yet another annoying retail establishment. [If you like to scare yourself, read the ingredients on a can of Pedigree “chicken” dog food: makes a great Hallowe’en tale.]

This seemed to work OK. Cassie doesn’t care. She’s a corgi. Corgis will eat anything.

The dog survived many weeks of debilitating illness. She still lives, though not well.

A couple weeks ago, I took it into my feeble head to cook up some real food for the dogs. Why, I do not recall: probably to clean out the freezer.

Put a dish of this down in front of Cassie…and she inhales it with obvious joy. The other dog is jumping around in ecstasy, too.

Hm. Okay. They like real dog food. Apparently they like real dog food better than they fancy the factory-made gunk.

I did this on December 4.

Within a day — on December 5 — she was significantly improved: up to a 9 on a scale of 1 (moribund) to 10 (normal). Dayum!

She continued to have her ups and downs, but overall the trend from there on was upward. After an episode where she backslid to a 5 or 6, yesterday I would say she was as close to a 10 as she’s ever going to get. She was actually running around the backyard after Ruby.

That’s something, since this dog has barely been able to walk on occasion.

Will she recover her old self?

How do I doubt it? Let me count the ways. But it’s beginning to look like she may survive. And it’s even possible that most of the time she won’t be unthinkably miserable.

Here’s the problem with making dog food…well…one of the several problems: Holidays.





…a holiday comes along, you will run out of dog food. This means that to buy ingredients for the next batch, you will have to do battle with endless lines in grocery stores. That’s assuming you can find a grocery store that’s open.

Making dog food is a rather messy and time-consuming job, and really not what you feel like doing while you’re wrestling with holiday activities. And certainly not something you want to have to do under the time pressure posed by the holiday closure of the stores that carry the ingredients.

And yep. As is the case every year… Here we are, two days before Christmas, and we run out of dawg food.

So I spent half the afternoon in the kitchen, up to my elbows in chicken grease — the process was made much messier by my having stupidly purchased bone-in chicken thighs instead of Costco’s best boned, skinless things. With, we might add, a bandage that goes halfway up my forearm, having cleverly burnt the bejayzus out of myself yesterday.

We now have a giant pot of dog food.

The dogs eat about a pound of it a day.

This means we will run out…yes…right before New Year’s Day.


And that will mean yet another Costco run. Ugh. Amidst mobs of armchair sports fans stocking up with food and booze for the New Year’s Big Games.

As for now, though: it’s away to choir. Compline. You should try it sometime. You’ll like it.

Cats & Dogs & Diets

Manning…Personing the barricades!


Some time back my friend KJG’s husband, The Fireman, was reflecting on our shared War on Cats. They have an obnoxious neighbor who thinks it’s just grand to let their damnable cats invade yards, kill birds, dig up gardens, piss and poop on vegetables, and stink up entryways, a problem that makes Other Daughter’s cats a trifle.

Here at the Funny Farm, I had fortified the castle battlements by zip-tieing carpet tack strips along the decorative tops of the cinderblock walls: the top row of block has a pattern of holes, highly convenient for this purpose.

A minor dilemma arose: to wit, a slender block wall like this has a heavier, supporting block column about every 15 feet. Each of these is topped with a flat, solid block, leaving noplace to get purchase for your zip-tied lashup. After a couple of experiments failed, I ended up having to paste pieces tack strips to the tops of these columns, using outdoor-grade heavy-duty double-sided sticky tape. This worked…sort of.

Two and a half years have passed, and the problem with Other Daughter’s tabby cat and KnitWit’s black & white cat has been defeated. Cats do not enter my backyard. The neighbors think a Crazy Lady lives here, but that’s just fine with me as long as their cats are not using my desert landscaping as their toilet and my dogs are not eating their deposits — and all the parasites and diseases that come along.

As you can imagine, carpet tack strips are not made to weather wind, rain, and 118-degree sunlight. They’re really nothing other than thin strips of laminate, about a step above cardboard. They’ve held up a great deal better than I imagined they would — I figured they’d fall apart in about one season. But no. Even though they’re looking a little tired, they’re still up there and still doing the job. Of course, they want to buckle and they want to de-laminate, but where they’re secured to the decorative cinderblocks, the zip ties have held them together. Atop the columns, though, they have warped, buckled, curled, and pulled up from the sticky tape. Ugleee, though still effective.

The Fireman suggested that the column toppers could be held in place by nailing the strips to pieces of wood cut to fit the block and then sticking the resulting solid piece down to the crowning cinderblock.

This, it develops, is a brilliant idea. It’s easy to accomplish — carpet tack strips come with handy little brads that you just tap down to hold them in place.

Under construction
The deed done

They’re sturdy, they stick on there firmly, and while they’re anything but elegant, at least they do look better than strips of tacks tied on with string and wire. 🙂

{Chortle!} Great WT stuff, isn’t it?

So today I plan to start replacing the weathered strips along the endless lengths of decorative cinderblock, a little at a time. There’s no hurry. While it’s cool in the morning, a few feet of old strips can be discarded and a few new feet installed. By the end of the week, the eccentric lash-up will be fully replaced.


While I’ve been sick with this seemingly endless respiratory infection, I’ve again had recourse to rolls of FreshPet dog food, the commercial product that’s the closest I’ve found to the custom-made chow I feed the hounds.

The dogs like it, and gosh it’s so much easier than stewing and grinding and mixing up 10 pounds of dog food at a time. Since the dogs eat a pound of food a day, ten pounds goes fast. Usually I can make a week or ten days’ worth, and then it’s back to the kitchen.

It’s good for the dogs — you’d never know Cassie is over ten years old now — but it sure as hell is a PITA. Especially when you don’t feel good.

FreshPet is bracingly expensive — depending on the store, $12 to $14 a roll, plus 10% sales tax, for enough to last about a week.

So yesterday while I was at Costco, there to purchase some more dog food makings, I tried to calculate a cost comparison. It’s not easy, because custom-make dog food is not the same kind of apple as factory-made stuff. But after much tergiversation, I figured that buying pork, chicken, big bags of frozen mixed veggies, oatmeal, rice, and sweet potatoes is marginally cheaper, over the course of a month, than serving up premade dog food with the same ingredients.

Plus: the main reason I go to Costco these days is to buy dog pork, dog chicken and dog veggies. Really, I can buy everything else in other places, and absent the impulse buy factor, doing so saves money.  This month I’ve spent a ton of money in Costco, which I would not have done had I been shopping in grocery stores — the purple jeans come to mind as an example.

So, I dunno. It’s a nuisance to make dog food. But it probably is better for the dogs, and apparently it’s cheaper. If I could train myself only to buy the stuff that’s needed in Costco and not to grab a pair of colorful jeans or a package of oversalted pre-cooked lamb shanks or a couple of bottles of wine, it probably would be cheaper.


In spite of past six weeks spent pounding at Death’s Door — or maybe because of it — I’ve put on enough weight to push the BMI borderline between “normal” and “overweight” (i.e., “fat”). The jeans still fit, but they’re getting tight.

So I determined to knock off the bread (every morning two pieces! With cheese or dipped in olive oil or smeared with butter and honey!!) and the pasta (comfort food of the first [salted] water) and the potatoes (mmmmmm hash browns!!!).

And it’s worked! By adding salad or fruit to each meal and subtracting the wheat products and the potatoes, I’ve lost two pounds in a week. This, without going hungry, without exercising significantly, and without knocking off my favorite potables (one beer or one bourbon and water per day). If I would get off my duff and bike or walk without benefit of leaf-sniffing dogs, I’d probably lose weight even faster.

Since only about five pounds need to go, I should be back to my former sylph-like self in another week or two.

One thing I did discover: if I arrive at the church about an hour before morning choir practice, I can sneak in a mile or so of strolling…  ahem, “power-walking”…in a different environment without the animals suspecting that I’ve made my escape.

One of our associate rectors came up with the idea of a virtual “walk to Jerusalem” for the weeks coming up to Easter. She mapped out a mile-long route around the church, and they tote up the number of person-miles walked by the interested group, to come up with a total equivalent to the distance between Lovely Uptown Phoenix and Jerusalem. This, she taped in a window, allowing me to see exactly where to walk around the church to rack up an even mile.

The area around there in fact is rather lovely. North Central Phoenix is full of expansive 1950s ranch houses on huge lots, each now worth in the vicinity of $750,000 to $1 million, and the main drag through the center of the district is flanked by what once were riding trails — and now are shady walking paths. So it’s a great place to walk and it offers some scenery a little different from the ’hood’s. When you’re there, you’re smack in the middle of Richistan, rather than having to hike through a buffer zone to get to a scenic upscale tract.

So I’m thinking that as part of the diet plan, I should do this every Sunday I go over to the religious HQ. It may even be light enough an hour before the midweek evening choir practice to pull this off (I wouldn’t walk on Central Avenue after dark) — so that would provide two monotony-defying, dog-free walks a week, instead of just one. 🙂

Welp, on to today’s exercise stint: pulling old carpet tack strips off the walls and zip-tieing new ones up!

Dog Food: Make It or Buy It?

As old-timey FaM readers know, one of my strangest eccentricities is that I cook and feed real, actual FOOD to my dogs, rather than giving them the fake stuff that comes in bags and cans. This came about during the late, great melamine scare, during which we learned that virtually all dog foods, from Walmart’s cheapest to Petsmart’s fanciest, are manufactured in the same few factories in China. And, as we learned from that and a number of other flaps (remember the poison toothpaste?), quality control is not China’s strong suit.

Cooking up a week’s worth of dog food for one dog, even a relatively small one like a corgi, is a job. Fixing it for two is a real chore. Cassie eats a a little over a half-pound of food a day, but because Ruby is still a growing pup, she needs a pound and three-quarters to two pounds a day. That is a lot of artisanally home-cooked dog food!

When the present medical adventure started, I prepared and froze a ton of food for them. But I didn’t plan on two, three, now four and maybe even FIVE surgeries. Even though I made more food between procedures 2 and 3, we ran low.

So I supplemented with a product made by a company called FreshPet. The stuff comes in rolls — my son says it looks like mortadella, a delicacy that tosses his belly — and it contains exactly the same ingredients I put in my concoctions: meat, veggies, some kind of starch, and a vitamin pill. You slice off a chunk in the desired amount, mash it up, fork over the plateful to the dog, and stick the rest back in the fridge.

Okay. Very nice, but you find the stuff at places like Whole Foods and PetSmart (the Whole Paycheck of the pet industry….). Meanwhile, I was pretty fuzzy about how much it costs to make up a week’s worth of dog food in my kitchen — calculating the cost of all those ingredients and then factoring out the number of days they would supply is beyond my English-major math skills.

So, there I am thinking this expensive dog food can’t POSSIBLY cost any less than what I make, probably costs more, and besides, I really do know what goes into my dog food, whereas when I buy a prepared product I have to believe what’s on the label. Decision made: keep on cookin’.

Then, Ruby developed ear infections and runny eyes. The vet, whose experience in this issue proved correct with the now-deceased greyhound, speculated that she had a food allergy. When he learned what she’s eating, he pointed out that beef is one of the commonest allergens among dogs. He recommended taking her off beef — and while we’re at it, let’s cut out the grains, too.


Well, this presented two problems:

a) Hamburger is the only pre-ground meat that is even vaguely cost-effective. All other meats available in grocery stores — the meats you can afford, that is — have to be ground up in one’s food processor, a messy and time-sucking project.

b) Therefore, I had stocked the freezer with a lifetime supply of hamburger-based dog food. I was not about to throw it away, and with another surgery coming up, neither was I in a position to cook up MORE pounds and pounds of food.

So I paid another visit to Whole Foods, where I found large dog-food rolls. Got a grain-free turkey concoction. Pup was beside herself with joy. And, when I had to board her with my son after the last surgical excursion rendered me too infirm to care for her, it was mighty useful to be able to hand a roll of prepared food over to him.

After about a week or ten days free of beef products, Ruby’s ears and eyes cleared right up. No steroids required, no nothin: just hold the beef.

Then I found some rawhide chews shaped like donuts, a design that makes it hard for her to reduce the thing to a size and shape she can choke on and easy for me to get it away from her before she can harm herself with it. Three or four days of chomping on beef hide: ear inflammation came back.

Obviously, this is a dog that can’t tolerate beef.

Ducky. As it were.

That locked us into the most work-intensive versions of my home-made dog food recipes: highly undesired, under the circumstances. So, it was permanently on the dog food rolls for Ruby. Cassie could consume the rest of the frozen beef concoction.

Now that I’m feeling better, my hot little mind returns to a key cheapskate’s question:

Which of these fancy concoctions — hand-make artisanal dog food from my kitchen or effete natural organic made-in-America(!!) turkey doggy salami from Whole Foods — actually costs more?

Recently, I bought five pounds of boneless chicken at Costco. Combined with a yam and a dose of mixed veggies, it produced seven pounds of home-cooked dog food. That is a shade under one week’s worth for Cassie —  about four days’ worth for Ruby. At about the same time, I’d bought five pounds of turkey roll at Whole Foods; from that I managed to extrapolate how much it would cost to feed Cassie that stuff for a week. Result:

Home-made dog food: about $22.
Fancy turkey roll dog food: about $21

Huh. We call that diference negligible.

And once Ruby is past the high-calorie puppy diet stage — which will only be another three and a half months — her rations can drop to about half of what she’s eating now.  Thus in the near future dog food costs will drop significantly, no matter which fancy cuisine they’re dining on.

Well, as it develops, Fry’s Supermarkets also allegedly carries the elegant FreshPet doggy salami. I don’t go into the Fry’s in my part of town because both of them are in dangerous neighborhoods full of panhandlers and muggers (last time I went to the Fry’s in Sunnyslop, a panhandler parked his wheelchair behind my car so I couldn’t pull out and sat there screaming at me after I told him, truthfully, that I don’t carry cash). It’s reasonable to believe that the customers of these low-rent establishments do not buy their dog food in the shape of staggeringly expensive mortadella rolls.

But the other day when I was at the Fancy-Dan Fry’s in Paradise Valley, I did find it there (why are we not surprised?). They charged $12.99 for a  hefty five-pound chicken roll.

A look at the latest Whole Foods receipt revealed a bill for $20 for a five-pound turkey roll. Other than the different birds — chicken, turkey — the ingredients were identical.

At $12.99/five pounds, I could feed Cassie (and eventually Ruby) for a week for $16.76.

That is a far cry from $22 and change!

So, I’ll be shopping at Fry’s for gourmet dawg food after this. And when Cassie runs out of the home-made stuff, she also be moving out of Alice’s Restaurant and over to the joint that serves up prepared chow.

How is Ruby doing on this food? Well. Exceptionally well.

She was beginning to look a little scrawny, so I upped her rations and added a boiled egg at mid-day. After a week of this, she’s filled out handsomely and is beginning to look like a mature dog. Here she is, on the right, almost as tall as Cassie.

My iPhoto has decided its red-eye function no longer works…sorry about that.

Cassie weighs about 23 pounds. Last time  I put Ruby on a scale, about two weeks ago, she weighed 16 pounds. This morning she’s up to 21.3 pounds. She still  looks slender and healthy, but clearly I’ll have to keep an eye on the rations to be sure she doesn’t get fat. Corgis regard food as something that must be vacuumed up (they try to inhale the leftover molecules from each others’ dishes!). As you can imagine, they tend to overweight, a risky condition for long short-legged dogs with vulnerable spines.

For the nonce, though, she looks good. She’s actually becoming pretty: where before she looked like a scruffy waif, now she’s taking on the kind of magical doggy beauty that Corgis can affect. Her coat looks good, her eyes are no longer runny, her ears are no longer red and itchy, and she’s looking more and more like Cassie, who is truly a handsome little dog.

It seems to be working.

The DIY Dog Food Chef: Should you feed bones to your dog?

As regular readers know, I feed Cassie the Corgi real food: a carefully calibrated combination of starch, vegetables, and cooked meat plus canine vitamins. Easy to fix and unlikely to be contaminated with adulterants such as melamine.

It being summer, we’re both developing cabin fever: when it’s 105-degrees plus, the pavement is too hot for her feet after dawn and before sunset. In her doggy boredom, she’s been working on creating a fine lick granuloma on one leg. Because she doesn’t pull off bandaids (what kind of a dog is she, anyway?), it’s pretty easy to block her from chewing the incipient wound she’s already built, but all that means is she finds another spot to lick.

No one really knows what leads a dog to lick itself raw, but some veterinarians speculate that one cause is boredom. So I decided she needs something to keep her busy with chewing: let her chew an object instead of her foot.

I never feed my dogs bones, mostly because they’re messy indoors and attract ants and other insects outdoors. Smaller bones, as we all know, are very dangerous to domestic dogs: the risk for intestinal impaction and perforation is high. Some people, however, think you can get away with large knuckle bones, those round heavy things that are pretty hard for a dog to break apart. And many folks figure a dog, being a direct descendant of the wolf and genetically barely discernible from the wolf, should have at any raw bones you care to give it.

A dog, however, is not a wolf. Over tens of thousands of years, Canis lupus familiaris has adapted to live with humans, and it’s a rare domestic pooch that brings down dinner on the range. I did a little research and found this interesting e-mail discussion between a small-animal veterinarian and biologists and caretakers who  manage captive wolves. The wolf experts point out that wild canids eat more than just a bone: when they ingest bones, they’re also eating skin and fur. The fur, in particular, tends to wrap itself around hard objects in the digestive tract, padding sharp bones and protecting the intestine.

Huh. Well, I don’t think I’ll be inviting Bugs Bunny to Cassie’s tea-time while she’s chewing some cow’s knuckles. So…hold the raw bones, waiter.

So what can I do to amuse this animal?

One reasonably safe strategy is to take a Kong-style toy and fill it with peanut butter or dog treats, so that the pooch has to fiddle with it for quite some time to extract the yummy stuff. Peanut butter, while probably harmless unless the dog is allergic to it, is fattening. You can substitute any number of fillers, including raw vegetables if your dog will eat them. Yogurt and cottage cheese can also be used. Ordinary dog treats work well. When using gooey or runny fillings, you can minimize leakage by freezing the filled Kong before giving it to the dog.

The other thing I’ll be trying is adding some omega-3 fatty acids to her food, lest she have a deficiency that’s giving her itchy skin. Easiest way to accomplish this is to include salmon in the diet. She likes salmon, but lately I’ve fallen into the habit of feeding hamburger most of the time. Dogs need a variety of protein sources. In addition to adding fish a couple times a week, I’ll dig some chicken out of the freezer for her, and also pick up some ground lamb the next time I see it on sale at Sprouts.

And finally, even though Cassie is pretty laid-back (she got over her apparent separation anxiety within a few weeks of taking over my house), to forestall any further neurotic behavior I’m going to have to get off  my duff at 5:30 in the morning and take her for a walk, instead of plopping in front of the computer and spending an hour or two blogging. She already polices the neighborhood every evening; in the mornings it will be safe for us to invade the park (we don’t go there after dark). So that should give her (and me) a little more exercise.

So, as to the answer to the question of whether you should feed bones to your dog: in a word, nope.

Dog food at Funny:

Doggie treats
General recommendations
Costs & benefits
Doggie chicken soup

DIY Dog Food: Spend a little more and get a lot more

Condo Blues responded with a little clarification of a post I linked to yesterday, in which she described some doggy treats she’s invented. Her discussion of doggy food allergies brought me back to one of my favorite hobby horses: dog food.

Commercial dog food, besides being equivalent in human terms to a steady diet of cheap hot dogs and processed dry cereal, is full of ingredients that are common dog allergens. Corn, for example, is one of the top offenders among canine allergens, and yet most commercial dog foods are full of it, because it’s very cheap. Fish is another common allergen for dogs, yet it’s touted as a main ingredient for some very fancy, very expensive premium dog foods.

Overall, though, the problem with dog food is that it isn’t food. It’s fake food, an even feebler imitation of food than the fast food and junk snacks that humans favor for themselves. While it will sustain most animals, it may not sustain them well.

This fact came to my attention during the late, great Chinese melamine dog food scare. While that was going on, you couldn’t tell what commercial dog foods, if any, were safe—every time you turned around, another brand was being yanked off the shelves. So, I decided to feed my German shepherd and my greyhound human food: real food purchased from the grocery store’s counters of human food. The result was amazing.

I did a fair amount of research to find out what dogs eat and don’t eat. Humans routinely consume a number of foodstuffs that are toxic to dogs, notably onions and chocolate. Condo Blues provides a useful link to a list of dog no-no food items. Interestingly, domestic dogs are unlike cats in that dogs are not “obligatory carnivores.” A cat is: it must have a diet high in animal protein. Dogs, however, having evolved with humans for many tens of thousands of years, thrive on a diet similar to an omnivorous human diet. Apparently they started down that road before they started hanging around with humans: wolves have been observed eating berries and other vegetable matter in the wild.

Understand, this does not mean that dogs are vegetarians (although some people feed pet dogs vegetarian diets without much obvious harm). A look at the teeth should clue you to this: a dog’s mouth is full of tools designed to rip meat, whereas a human has, in comparison, a limited number of teeth designed for tearing meat. Clearly, the animal needs meat as a large part of its diet.

I’m not going to try to track down the research I unearthed just this moment. If you’re interested, google topics such as canine diet and canine nutrition with edu as part of the search string. Adding “edu” will help bring up serious research papers and articles posted by leading veterinary schools. Use some common sense about what you believe: there is a LOT of woo-woo out there—as much woo-woo surrounds the subject of pet diets as you’ll find about human foods. But in addition to New-Agey silliness, you’ll also find ream after ream of propaganda emanating from the pet food industry, and you will discover that many veterinarians buy this propaganda, as many human doctors buy into what Big Pharma tells them. Pet food corporations conduct scientific research, too, and unsurprisingly that research tells them dogs should be eating nothing but dry kibble.


Dogs should eat about what you eat, with a larger proportion of meat or (if the animal can digest it) cheese. Dogs, like humans, need starches, vegetables & fruits, and animal protein; a healthy ratio of these ingredients (for a dog, not for you) is about 1:1:1. That is, 1/3 starch, 1/3 veggies, and 1/3 animal protein. A little more meat and a little less of the others won’t do any harm.

Don’t even think about trying this on your cat! Cats are not dogs, and their metabolism is different from a dog’s. A cat’s nutritional needs are weird, and you will need expert advice to build a feline diet from scratch.

Corn is indigestible for many dogs, and it should be avoided because it often kicks up allergies. Onions and garlic are toxic. Avocadoes are said to be bad for dogs, too. Otherwise: almost anything goes. Like humans, dogs need a variety of veggies: mix green and yellow items, and don’t feel shy about giving the dog squash one day and spinach the next. I’ve been buying Costco’s frozen “Normandy Style Vegetable Blend.” This gives you a lifetime supply of dog and human veggies. It contains broccoli, cauliflower, and two kinds of carrots. For convenience, I microwave a plateful of the veggies and run them through the food processor, providing a week’s worth of finely chopped, easy-to-serve dog vegetables. Unground, they’re mighty good served up to humans, too.

Starches include rice, oatmeal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peas. In a pinch, I’ve substituted a little bread. Cook potatoes and sweet potatoes well—you can zap them in the microwave, because the dog can’t tell the difference between cooking methods. Rice and oatmeal are easy to cook on the stovetop. Be sure the stuff is cooled off before feeding.

Meat: some people like to feed their dogs raw meat. My own practice is never to feed my dog anything I wouldn’t eat myself, and I do not think raw meat is safe to eat. You have enough vet bills without deliberately exposing the animal to staph, C. difficile, and E. coli infections. So, I feed cooked meat. For the same reason, egg also should be cooked. When I cook a meal for myself, I cook up enough extra meat for the dog to last for several days. A barbecue grill is particularly handy for this purpose.

Hamburger is amazingly overpriced. Watch the meat sales. You can buy roasts marked down, and most butchers will grind it for you. Keep the bones for the purpose I’ll describe below. And taste the fresh-ground hamburger yourself—it’s much better than what you get off the counter. Last week Safeway was selling hamburger for over $2 a pound, but chuck roast was $1.47 a pound. I got enough ground chuck to feed me and the dog for a week. Rump roast is leaner and also sometimes comes on sale at a substantial mark-down. Chicken is often marked down, too—thighs are easiest to debone after cooking.

There’s no need for meat to be ground. You can cut it up into manageable chunks by way of discouraging the dog from setting it on the living-room carpet to chew it up—I use a pair of scissors to snip cooked meat into pieces for Cassie the Corgi. But if you want to grind it, a food processor will grind raw meat for you in a matter of seconds.

If you have a roast ground, ask the butcher to give you the bones. You can use these to make soup for yourself or, if that’s more work than it’s worth, simply drop a bone into the water you use to cook the dog’s rice. This flavors the rice to the dog’s taste, and it also cooks up the last few bits of meat, which you can shave off and add to the rice. Do not, do not, DO NOT let your dog chew on cooked bones! And never give your dog chicken or turkey bones! A dog’s jaws are strong enough to splinter bones, especially cooked bones; the splinters can lodge in the dog’s mouth or perforate its intestines.

And yes, I KNOW wolves and wild dogs eat bones. In the wild, wolves commonly die of perforated intestines.

Because no one really knows all a dog’s nutritional needs—remember, in the wild they’ll eat anything, including insects and some things you’d just as soon not know about—it’s a good idea to add a dog vitamin to one meal each day. Sometimes Trader Joe’s carries dog vitamins, relatively inexpensive compared to the same thing you get at the vet’s office or PetSmart.

Interestingly, as soon as I put the German shepherd and the greyhound on real food, their health changed. Visibly and drastically. The decrepit Ger-shep perked up. She began to move around with a great deal less discomfort, and where before she could only hobble after the beloved Toy, soon she was chasing it at a fast trot. The grey, a far more low-key character, also seemed healthier and happier. He was allergic to corn—a sensitivity that manifested itself as ear infections—and fixing his food myself meant I knew exactly what was and what was not in his dog dish.

It’s a lot of work to turn enough food out of your kitchen to feed a 90-pound dog (to say nothing of two of them…), especially if you’re not in the habit of cooking your own meals all the time. However, a smaller dog is very easy to feed this way. You can prepare several meals at once and store the food in the fridge.

I feed Cassie, who weighs 23 pounds, about 5 ounces of food twice a day, evenly divided between a vegetable, a starch, and meat, egg, or cottage cheese. I refrigerate the cooked ingredients in separate containers and then combine them at mealtime. Microwaving the food about 30 seconds at a medium setting to take the chill off seems to please the dog, though she will eat it cold. If you try this, be sure none of the food in the bowl is too hot, as microwaving heats unevenly.

If you change your dog over from kibble to real food abruptly, your pet likely will have diarrhea for a day or two. This is normal: dogs get enteritis when you change from one fake food to another, and the same effect occurs when you take them off fake food. Afterwards, though, you’ll find that once the animal is acclimated to eating real food, you can introduce a wide variety of foodstuffs without causing any stomach upset.

Real food may cost a little more than commercial pet food (although given the cost of some of the premium brands…maybe not!), but it’s way worth it in terms of the animal’s health and the savings in veterinary bills. Feeding your dog fake food is a classic case of penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Dog Food: The costs and benefits of making your own

 Cassie, the Little Dog, turns up her dainty nose at Science Diet’s best lamb and rice kibble. Won’t touch packaged doggy treats. Doesn’t think much of ultrapremium canned food, either, though she’ll gag down a few bites. After three days of hunger strike, she’d already lost about two pounds—a lot when you weigh 23 pounds.

At first I thought she was off her feed because of the stress of being dumped in the Humane Society shelter, a place as wild as a nineteenth-century madhouse, then yanked out by a strange woman, fussed over by the woman’s friends and relatives, dragged to two vets, sickened by bordetella, and dosed up with antibiotics and cough medicine. Concerned because she was eating almost nothing, last night I fixed her a dish of the same kind of food I cooked for Anna and Walt during the last year’s Chinese pet food scare: half a piece of steak grilled for my own dinner, a few spoonsful of boiled rice, some spinach, and some peas.

She inhaled the stuff and begged for more.

Makin’ It

Hot dang! Dollars to donuts, this dog has been eating real food. That would explain her perfect coat and teeth in such excellent condition it surprised both vets. It also would explain why she didn’t get the doggywobbles despite the stress and the changing food. When dogs eat real food, their tastes are catholic and versatile, and diversity in their diet does not trigger gastritis and diarrhea. Possibly her humans fed her the BARF diet: raw meat and bones. This is somewhat risky, given that pathogens are pathogens, whether they’re attacking people or dogs, and raw meat is full of pathogens. BARF is probably the most popular of the do-it-yourself dog feeding projects, though, and so chances are good this is what she ate.

A little undergraduate coursework in microbiology has left me unwilling to ingest raw meat or to feed it to a domestic mammal. So my idea of homemade dog food is a combination of meat cooked rare to medium (well-done for poultry or pork), starch, and veggies. If you cook your own meals rather than eating out all the time, it’s no problem to put a little extra on the stove for the dog.

Why Feed Dogs Real Food?

Commercial dog food, whether kibble, semi-moist, or canned, is not food. It’s no more food than is junk food for humans. The fact that you can swallow something doesn’t make it food. For a dog to spend its entire life eating kibble is about like a person starting in on hot dogs and dry packaged cereal in infancy and having nothing else to eat for the rest of his or her life. Think of that.

Dogs are not evolved to eat bizarre chemicals. Dogs have lived with humans and have eaten what humans eat for thousands and thousands of years. Commercial packaged or canned dog food came into being in the early part of the 20th century. DNA testing suggests dogs moved into human camps about 15,000 years ago. But in a scant 60 years, we’ve allowed merchandisers and a compliant veterinary industry to convince us that dogs can’t survive on “people food.” Really: does this make sense? If dogs can’t thrive on real food, how did they manage to survive for the 14,940 years before manufacturers started peddling fake food for dogs?

When I switched Anna and Walter over to real food during the 2007 scare, the improvement in their vigor and health was striking. Both 12 years old at the time, they each were showing signs of age. Before long, their coats looked great, they had more energy, their dog breath disappeared. Their dog mounds became more compact and normal-looking, and instead of having to collect upwards of a dozen giant mounds a day, I found myself picking up only a couple. It was clear as day that both dogs thrived when no kibble crossed their bristly lips.

Feeding two 90-pound dogs, however, meant cranking 28 pounds a week out of my kitchen. It wasn’t hard, but it could be messy, especially if I tried to cook an entire week’s worth in a single day. When, after several months, Walt started to lose weight drastically, I thought he wasn’t getting enough nutrition and switched both animals back to commercial food. This assumption was wrong: he was wasting away with an aggressive cancer, which soon ended his life. By then, though, Anna was obediently eating Trader Joe’s kibble, and so I took the path of least resistance and kept her on it.

To feed real food to this little dog, though, would be pretty easy. According to the instructions on the 13.5-ounce can of premium dog food I brought home, she should have about one can a day-less than a pound. By my own rule of thumb-daily ration = 2% of body weight-she should have about a half-pound of real food each day. That’s a little scanty, though a full pound may be a little much. It’s easy to schlep her to a vet’s office to be weighed, and that’s how you figure out how much to feed: follow the animal’s weight for a while and adjust the ration accordingly. The amount I made Sunday evening, which started with a cup of rice to which, after it was cooked, were added meat and a few vegetables, fed her for three meals.

After her second little feast, Cassie perked up considerably. She’s been tearing down the hall after her toys and boldly exploring the house and yard. The cough has subsided and she evidently feels much better.

So…how much does this cost?

Well, I’ll have to admit that preparing real food for two dogs as big as small horses was not cheap: a dog the size of a German shepherd or a male greyhound requires 14 pounds of food a week, of which five to seven pounds should be high-quality meat. Kibble doped with a small amount of meat or broth (the only way you can get a dog to eat that stuff) costs significantly less.

However, a home-made diet for a small dog like Cassie is cost-effective. In the first place, one will save a lot on vet bills if one is not forcing the animal to eat feed that is suspect at best and toxic at worst. But in the second place, the small amount such a dog eats costs no more than the best quality dog food you can get.

One can of Precise chicken dog food set me back $2.99; it will feed Cassie for just one day. A small bag of Science Diet and a bag of inedible dog treats rang up a $16 bill at PetSmart.

I returned the PetSmart foodoid—one thing you have to give to that outfit is that they will take back opened packages of dry dog food if your dog won’t eat it—collecting my sixteen bucks. Then I headed for Sprouts, where for $7.88 I got a package of hamburger (on sale for $1.99 a pound), a package of chicken, a bag of bulk converted rice, and some veggies.

Okay. That’s half of what I paid for the Science Diet and dog treats, all of which was going from the package to the dog bowl to the garbage. No matter what I put on the kibble, the dog flat wouldn’t eat it, and of course whatever I put on it quickly spoiled in the summer heat. So any money spent on the stuff effectively was tossed into the trash.

The hamburger, rice, and vegetables produced four days’ worth of Cassie food: that’s eight generous servings. For around five or six bucks, since the rice and veggies will go a lot further than that and I still have the chicken to convert into more dog food.

Once she’s over the kennel cough, I can occasionally substitute cottage cheese for meat, which will cut that cost, as will buying cheaper cuts of meat and having them ground or picking up meat at a better price elsewhere (at Safeway hamburger was selling for $1.70 a pound, but I learned of this after I was done driving through 112-degree heat). So, I expect I can feed her for a week for something between eight and ten bucks.

While this is high compared to dry dog food-which, bear in mind, isn’t food-it’s cheap compared to three dollars a can! One can whose ingredients resemble what I would cook lasts the dog for one day: that would be $21 a week, plus 8.3% tax. In Arizona, I pay no sales tax on human food.

From an early FaM post on making your own dog food:

How do you make dog food?

It’s pretty easy. Remember, over the past 15,000 years, dogs have evolved to eat what people eat. Like their wild ancestors, they’re nonobligate carnivores: this means they’re primarily meat-eaters but also can and do eat a fair amount of vegetable matter. Wolves have been observed scarfing berries and fruit, and you no doubt have watched your own dog munch things like cauliflower and popcorn.

The trick is to feed real food. By that I mean things that would be real food for humans, too: not junk food.

Real meat.

Real vegetables.

Unadulterated sources of starch.

Not junk food. Not hot dogs or leftover Big Macs or ice cream or pizza or peanut butter or any thing that comes in a can or a plastic microwavable package or as a mix to which you just add water. That leaves the entire world of real food:

Meat. Fresh or frozen veggies. Brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, yams, even real potatoes. Cottage cheese, yoghurt, and eggs are OK, too.

What’s not OK to feed dogs, in addition to junk food, are the following items:

  • 1. Onions (toxic; onion causes a life-threatening form of anemia in dogs)
  • 2. Garlic (ditto, no matter what people say about adding it for flavoring)
  • 3. Chocolate (poisonous to dogs)
  • 4. Corn (one of the most common allergens in dogs)
  • 5. Avocado
  • 6. Raw egg white (cooked is OK)
  • 7. Raw salmon (cooked is OK)
  • 8. Grapes
  • 9. Added sugar
  • 10. Added salt

About 30% to 40% of each portion should consist of high-quality protein: meat, eggs, or cheese. The rest of the ingredients should be divided about fifty-fifty between a source of starch (such as rice, oatmeal, potato, or sweet potato) and a wide variety of vegetables. Each serving should ideally contain both a green and a yellow or orange vegetable. Dogs can eat almost any vegetable except plants in the onion family (onions, leeks, chives, shallots, garlic), corn, and avocado.

Cook but do not overcook the meat; only chicken and pork should be well-done all the way through. Cook the starch; if the veggies are frozen, add them to the hot freshly cooked starch item to defrost them and cool the grain or potato. Mix in the meat. If the meat is a solid piece baked or grilled (as opposed to ground meat), cut it into small pieces before adding it to the rest of the food. Add a little olive oil or lard for coat quality and calories. Toss in a doggy vitamin-available inexpensively at Trader Joe’s—and you have dog food that more than exceeds ideal.

Take it easy with fish. Like corn, fish is a common dog allergen. And take note that this diet is for dogs only, not for cats, which are obligatory carnivores.

If you cook like that for your dog, the pooch likely will be eating better than you do.

Veterinary bills will drop to almost nil. Ear infections—often a manifestation of food allergies—will subside or disappear. Backyard cleanup will be hugely easier. Your dog’s coat and teeth will be healthier. And the dog will love you.

Ultimately, this is highly cost-effective. If your dog is healthier, any extra amount you spend on purchasing real food is recouped many times over in savings on the most costly item of pet ownership: veterinary bills. And if your dog lives longer, obviously you will spend less on pets, because over the long term you will have to buy fewer of them.

2 Comments left on iWeb site


Do you really need to take her to a vet to weigh her?You could put her in a box and weigh her on a human scale.

I wonder why people who had evidently been taking such good care of her left her.

Wednesday, June 18, 200803:55 PM


One of my eccentricities is that I don’t own a scale. Throughout my life, my weight has been very stable, never varying more than a pound or two from a set point, and so a scale is redundant and something else for me to find a place for.

Also it’s easier to get a dog on a scale with a large platform, such as veterinarians have. Vets generally allow you to walk in and weigh your dog for free.

The whole issue of why Cassie’s humans dumped her at a shelter gets curiouser and curiouser. It’s now developing that she DOESN’T bark much. She may yap for couple of minutes after I leave, but she quickly settles down. No matter when I come back—whether it’s just five or ten minutes later or several hours later—she’s quiet.

It’s clear she was a child’s pet. At the moment, my neighbor’s nieces and nephews are playing in the pool next door. When Cassie went outside, she heard their voices and SO wanted to get over there and play with them. In their paperwork, the previous owners said they had a seven-year-old daughter. So that means they got rid of their little girl’s little dog. It almost sounds abusive, doesn’t it?

The only thing I can figure is maybe they lost their home and were too embarrassed to discuss that with strangers, so they made up an excuse instead of admitting to a catastrophic financial crisis. There’s apparently more to the story than “dog barks.”

Wednesday, June 18, 200804:40 PM